What The Germanwings Black Box Can Tell Us

Amid the tragedy of the fatal crash on Tuesday, some actual good news has emerged from the Germanwings incident, however empty it may seem right now — the Germanwings Flight 9525 black box has been found. In other words, investigators now have the best tool possible to glean insights into what caused the plane to lose altitude and crash in the French Alps. According to Reuters, the flight recorder is to be examined "immediately," meaning we could get word before too long about what happened.

Obviously, it's hard to view this as a positive turn of fortune. The Flight 9525 crash has left 150 people presumed dead, 16 of them reportedly children, an awful toll in any context, and it's another entry in a string of high-profile aerial accidents over the last year or so. In spite of the fact that commercial air travel continues to be abundantly statistically safe, it seems like there have been more than enough incidents lately to break hearts and stir up latent fears.

As detailed by the Los Angeles Times, the black box's discovery was revealed Tuesday by French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who suggested its quick retrieval could speed things along.

The black box will be sent to the air investigation offices this evening and looked at in the coming hours. The black box was found a few hours after the crash and will allow the investigation to move forward rapidly.

So, what is a black box, you ask? The term itself is just a popular nickname for a flight recorder, a sealed, ideally damage-proof device that can be used in the aftermath of a plane crash to figure out what went wrong. It's something of a misnomer, honestly, because flight recorders aren't actually black. Rather, they're all colored "international orange," an eye-popping shade designed to be easier to spot. This makes all the sense in the world, frankly — why would you make the recovery job that much harder by coloring the recorder black?

In any event, the term "black box" can refer to two different sorts of recorder: the flight data recorder or the cockpit voice recorder. These two functions can be contained in the same unit, or they can be separate — Reuters' reporting on Germanwings referred to the freshly discovered recorder as "one of the plane's black boxes," suggesting that there may be more digging to be done to complete the set.

Whether they ultimately get their hands on both the flight data and cockpit voice recordings or not, one or the other should hopefully reveal some new facts about what took place. Hopefully this news comes sooner rather than later, so that any other airlines operating these same planes (the Airbus A320) can take the necessary steps to ensure their safety.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain